So, let's talk about phrasing.

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Sascha Franck, Nov 26, 2017.

  1. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    Ok, as said in another thread, I found it quite weird that very little (in fact pretty much none) of the talk 'round these parts of TGP is about phrasing.
    To me, phrasing is *the* single most important thing when it comes to playing lines/melodies/solos. And I think it can be worked on almost every bit as much as one could work on scales and patterns - just that it seems to me very little folks are spending a considerable amount of time on it during their practice sessions. I have heard so much guitar players being able to play pretty much everything technically, but when you throw some simple vamps at them, they'd fail miserably to come up with some nice lines on their own.

    Whatever, before I might be getting to some actual content (oh yes, I'll even come up with some sound examples - another rather rare thing at TGP… pun intended), it's probably a good idea to define the term "phrasing".

    In a nutshell: Phrasing is about *which* note(s) to play *when* and for how long (<-!). In other words, it's a combination of tonal and rhythmic content.

    You might now argue that dynamics are a part of phrasing, too, but as they're not applicable in a universal way (some instruments simply don't allow for dynamics, such as organs, unless you use a volume pedal, which is quite something else already…), which is what phrasing is all about.

    Anything else to manipulate your lines falls into the category of "articulation". Bends, slurs, vibrato, tremolo, etc. And - well - dynamics. But all these are instrument/sound specific, whereas phrasing basically isn't. And this thread is supposed to be about the latter.

    As there's literally endless sources for material regarding the tonal content (which scale to play when, which alterations to use, which concepts, etc.pp.), I'll try to not get into that much, if at all, but concentrate on the rhythmic presentation of some rather simple things instead.

    Ok, not that I haven't been completely unaware of things before it, but there's been a pretty particular "oh wow!" moment that got me started to examin these things a bit more. Almost decades ago I watched Scott Hendersons (particularly excellent) "Melodic Phrasing" video (sorry, no links to watch, has been on YT once but isn't anymore, I still have it on an almost unwatchable VHS somewhere) and at one point he played some totally random notes using the rhythm of "Jingle Bells" - you would instantly recognize the tune without any question. Even I did, my friends, too - and it's not the most traditional christmas tune over here in Europe. Try for yourself, play the rhythm of "Jingle Bells" to someone. Chances are he/she will recognize it. In case he/she isn't, add a stupid melody that only uses the same directions of melodic movement but different notes - that's probably when each and everybody will recognize it, and it should illustrate the point pretty much as well: It's merely about the rhythm.

    So, once we (hopefully) had this "oh wow!" moment, what can we do with it to make it part of our playing?
    In short: We can use various rhythmic concepts to make our lines more "plausible", to establish certain notes, to get some structure into things (rather than just playing "correct" notes randomly), to create some interest into what otherwise might be rather boring scalar patterns, etc.

    I'll try my best to start with some examples straight in the next few posts. In case someone would like to add some more content, I'd be more than happy (unless it turns into yet another "you need to play Coltrane lines to understand" thing - which this is absolutely not about!). I'll try to make things pretty easy to understand, free of any stylistic boundaries (hence my comment about Coltrane lines…), so the ideas could be applied regardless whether you're into modern bebop or low tuned metal shredding. You might even laugh at the simplicity of some examples, but I think they might get the idea(s) through, though. We shall see.

    So much for now, will now have to spend the afternoon with my kids, so I'll hopefully continue in the (CET) evening. Just wanted start this to sort of force myself to actually get the ball rolling.

    Edit: I finally managed to post some examples, starts on page 6. But those interested in some further discussion about the issue shouldn't miss the previous pages, there's some interesting stuff.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
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  2. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    It's not weird, to me, that nobody talks about it.

    Because while harmony and technique can (to some extent, at least) be studied in an intellectual manner, phrasing at its best isn't really an intellectual thing. It's a 'feeling' thing, and an 'expression' thing.

    Some things can be "learned" but not "taught." Phrasing is best learned by listening, and then by doing.
     
  3. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    I agree to some extent, but I also disagree. Rhythmic content can be analyzed just fine. And certain rhythmic ideas can be applied every bit as much as some tonal ideas can be applied.
     
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  4. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    We TGPers talk about it all the time. Most don't call it 'phrasing'
    instead the phrases (he he!) 'It's in the Fingers' or 'Feel' cover
    that ground.
     
  5. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    Just that they really don't cover much ground. Or everything at once. Both not exactly useful.
     
  6. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    I disagree. Phrasing is mechanics - and mechanics can be analyzed.
    Phrasing can be taught - if someone can properly transcribe the music.

    What is harder to teach or study is Tone and Distortion - how one uses
    the amp - particularly when recording - can be very difficult. Sometimes
    wonderful accidents occur - and sometimes takes are creatively edited -
    and the end product is nearly impossible to duplicate.

    One example for me - is Eric Clapton's lead bits in Sunshine of Your Love.
    At 2:34 in Clapton misfires - but it sounds incredible to me. Always captures
    my ear.

     
  7. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    Not useful? Consider that most here are not musically educated.
    It would appear that the largest contingent at TGP primarily learn
    by ear - as such the descriptions given are going to be esoteric
    in nature. We don't get musical descriptions - i.e. 6 phrases of
    1/32nd Triplets with a double stop - when talking about EVH's
    hammer technique.
     
  8. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    Musical education or not doesn't matter. I meant it's not useful to describe things as "feel" or "in the fingers". Because neither gives you any values to work with.
    "Play A min pentatonic over an A min chord" gives you a very exact point to start with - and it should work fine for pretty much everybody, even merely non educated players. "Play with feel" gives you exactly nothing valuable. But you could as well come up with something such as "play a pickup to establish that note" (which is part of what I plan to demonstrate in my sound examples). That would give you a nice starting point, which would as well be every bit as easy to understand for non educated players.

    Everything I plan to demonstrate can easily be digested without any theoretic knowledge. Reading and listening will be sufficient.
     
  9. Pedro58

    Pedro58 Supporting Member

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    I thought the old adage, "If it sounds good, it is good," was about phrasing. No?

    Every art form has this discussion, and the argument often involves those who are schooled in the art and those who consume it. The two rarely agree on what is good.
     
  10. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    So you think phrasing can't be worked on? Or that there wouldn't be some sort of concepts which could lead to some nice phrasing ideas?
     
  11. NewLeaf09

    NewLeaf09 Supporting Member

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    I got a late start and have only been hard at it for about eight years, but because creating engaging phrasing on the fly is something that has eluded me I think that's where true artistry begins and the chaff blows away. Technical knowledge helps, without a doubt, but a lot of gorgeous soloing has been done by people with no formal music knowledge.

    I can copy "licks" all day long and have a couple of Hal Leonard books with 101 tried and true blues, rock, and country licks complete with "outside" variations to stun the guys at the jam, but it's the difference between writing poetry and reciting someone else's work, which just about anyone can do convincingly with enough rote practice. I work on phrasing regularly with a looper and am slowly, very slowly, compiling phrases which are at least partly of my own devising.
     
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  12. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    For me 'Feel' and 'Fingers' are very descriptive of what is happening
    with a player. It's not exacting - as you have pointed out.


    I think that using the musical tools we have (transcription, note values, etc...)
    would be the most exacting method to teach someone else 'phrasing'. There
    is little chance of misunderstanding if a person adheres to the rules. Although
    how studio guitarist play phrases appears to be the birth of basic Nashville
    Chord charts - where the author invites interpretation.



    Theory is not really related to what you are attempting to my view.
    I'm referring to being able to read and write music - and I think that
    benefits your pursuit more than putting complicated phrases into
    layman terms - I don't see how that can be accomplished.
     
  13. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    Who said anything about things being complicated?
     
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  14. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    Me. I think describing phrasing or even just getting ones head
    around the nuances of what people are doing is complicated
    when not using musical terminology.
     
  15. Pedro58

    Pedro58 Supporting Member

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    To the contrary, actually. It can be worked on. What else is there to work on? The difference between a pleasant-sounding guitar player and a horrible one comes down to phrasing, IMO. My point was that there are listeners who love players that the cognoscenti consider unskilled or unaccomplished. Hacks can sell records with good songs and good melodies. But the accomplished players will look down their nose at them. It's always been that way.

    That is not to say that phrasing cannot be learned.
     
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  16. Lephty

    Lephty Member

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    Something that I've been trying to work on lately is the endings of my phrases. IMO, much of the time, we don't give that much thought to where we land. We think about this or that lick, scale, chord tone, arpeggio, etc., but it doesn't amount to much if you don't stick the landing. I really started to become conscious of this when I started working on bluegrass flatpicking, but it holds true elsewhere too. You can play pretty much anything in a given phrase, as long as you're able to resolve it well.
     
  17. Sascha Franck

    Sascha Franck Member

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    Well, it's as complicated as a pentatonic scale. So it goes from as easy as possible to as complexed as possible.
     
  18. StevenA

    StevenA Member

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    Here's an example of what I always considered awful phrasing, in my opinion, solo starting at 3:52
     
  19. Megatron

    Megatron Member

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    Working a lot on starting and ending phrases on the 'and' and accenting the and of 2 and 4. some other rhythmic aspects as well.

    I find I like to work rhythmic stuff out on the drum kit with patterns so when I grab the guitar I can do it and not have the be super conscience of it or 'work' at it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  20. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    The absolute first lesson I teach to beginning improvisers is on phrasing. I give them two pitches to play and I have them work on their timing, note placement, etc. I’ll encourage them to try rhythms from hip hop songs.

    You see the lightbulb go on.

    A big lesson for myself was working with an interactive metronome that showed where I was relative to the beat. I worked with it a lot to be able to play ahead, on, and after the beat.

    Finally, breathing is worth thinking about. It provides a “natural” break between phrases, if you want that.
     

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